When I found out that Tommy died I was standing in line at the checkout in a health food store.
I had been talking to Tommy for several months about the enlarged tumor on his pituitary gland.
We would sit and talk about Bob Dylan (we both had the same favorite album… Blood On The Tracks). I’d listen to how he wanted to become a writer and how he dreamed of moving closer to the ocean after his surgery. He truly felt that he was at the edge of something new and he told me so often.
In his mind, there was no end. Either way he was excited. Tommy and I wondered aloud about God and the afterlife. We talked about his beliefs and I shared with him my faith in a man called Jesus. I talked about how even if he didn’t actually believe in Jesus that he should try to follow Him anyways. Tommy was intrigued but not fully convinced. Either way, we both knew that the Deep was soon approaching. And that our chance encounters weren’t really chance at all.
A few days before Tommy’s second surgery we exchanged some texts about calling, purpose and our work here on this earth. I had been encouraging him to write and so he sent this poem in a text message to me.
Now becomes the distance. She left with the pastels. Forward, slow and less and less. Boundless. A single trail of ashes spread out like desire in the night; wild, lurid and unmeasured. I could never follow the word. Too many syllables of the mundane. Each one dancing by candlelight in the drizzling shadows of emptied incandescence. All flora retreating. And only skies snow. Could it be as simple as yes? The cadence of strangers becomes the only rhythm looming. Unremarkable and droning, yet I cannot hide behind the elephant ears anymore. My march requires talons and I take my word in hand, wielding swaths of revelation and join the Rings of Saturn. Powder blues and pink ships sailing. All quietly in tune. In this silence we find our song. It is a match made in heaven.
At first it was all jumbled and I couldn’t understand it. The parts didn’t line up and I had a hard time putting the words in the right order. From what I could tell it was very beautiful so I texted him back saying how happy I was that he shared it with me and how talented I thought he was.
After I found out that he had passed I decided to share the poem with a mutual friend. Suddenly it was as if all the pieces locked into place and flowed seamlessly. I got it. It made sense and I felt his meaning in a whole new way.
I had planned to visit Tommy in the hospital. I had planned to bring him food. I had planned to let him know that I was praying for him. I had planned to share my writing with him. I had planned and never followed through. I didn’t have death staring me down. His finger wasn’t on my shoulder so the urgency of life running out never got personal.
Now I’m listening to You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go and on the sill there’s a bug struggling to break through the window. At first I pay no attention and even think of putting it out of it’s misery. The bug has a clear view of where it needs to go. With instinct and all it knows, it tries and tries to get through. Then suddenly I realize I’m the only one that can help it. It has no idea what a window even is and I’m almost sure it has no idea how it even got in this predicament to begin with. This bug does what it does unaware that there is a bigger picture taking place. It is totally unaware that it is being watched and that I have the power to help it back to it’s freedom. It actually doesn’t even know that I exist. It’s unawareness is as big as mine so I get up and grab a glass and small sheet of mail. I do the thing with glass and bring it out to the front porch. I take a very good look at this strange little, iridescent fly thing and say ceremoniously, “Fly free little bug” and then I let the top off. In less than a moment, the thing is in full flight nearly a yard above my head.
The bug makes little difference to me. However, I did get the message load and clear. Even though we may “see” and “perceive” our path in life, it’s really the invisible world around us that blocks us from moving forward. It’s the invisible that we keep knocking our heads against. And, it is really the invisible God that has the power to do things we could have never, ever imagined happening to help us reach outside.
Tommy basically worked right up until the day of his surgery. He was so confident that things would pan out. I can remember him saying he was more worried about whether or not he would find the kind of post op care he needed.
I don’t know where Tommy is, but his death has grabbed my full attention. So I say to you what I’ve learned:
- Never underestimate the power of one kindhearted conversation.
- Live life the way you would now if you knew you were going to die soon.
- And listen so intently to the clear and small voice of God because it can move you beyond what you could ever imagine.